This article has been reposted a few times over the years. It is still valid – I wish it had been consigned to history. Today of all days, it is especialy poignant. It is the 30th anniversary of the Gabon Plane Crash. We still await the official reports into the disaster from Gabon as well as Zambia.
It is surely long overdue, so all of the victims can restin peace and their families finally achieve the closure that they are due.
It is often forgotten that it wasn’t just the 18 players that Zambian football and Africa lost that night, it was the future of Zambian coaching in two of African football’s greatest legends, Alex Chola and Godfrey Chitalu. The names of all the victims is published in this article. They shall never be forgotten.
by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (April 25th 2013)
Imagine a national football team, say Spain in 2007, or England in 1965 that was tipped for great things, were killed in a plane crash before they achieved their potential. Now imagine successive governments over two decades promising to release the report of what happened and each of those governments broke their promises. And somehow, despite the tragedy, the players that replaced them reached the final the following year, losing narrowly.
Couldn’t happen? Well it has to last year’s African champions Zambia. 20 years ago today [Sunday April 28th] the Zambian team, bar three regular players, were killed off the coast of Libreville, Gabon. Despite the changes in government over two decades the families of the victims of the Gabon Air Disaster, which all but wiped out the most promising generation of Zambian football are still waiting for answers. Sports Minister Chishimba Kambwili pledged to release the report last year.
“The only other issue remaining is the release of the reports for the families to know exactly what transpired,” Kambwili told me exclusively.
“The previous government – our predecessors – didn’t release the Gabon Report, but as the new government we are looking very positively to try and see the reports so that we can release it to the public, so the public can know exactly what transpired here.”
When pressed on whether the new government would release the report Kambwili said: “Certainly.” I pressed further about when that would happen. “Very soon,” he said.
Despite Kambwili’s pledge 14 months ago the reports have not been published, but representatives of the families are still requesting their release. “Without the report the gap in our lives can never be filled until we die,” said Numba Mwila Jnr, whose father a Zambian midfielder of the same name was one the victims of the crash. Mr Mwila spoke to us on behalf of all the victims’ families.
“The minister, after Zambia won the cup, promised the release of the report,” he said.
“We want the government to recognise our worth and presence and respect us, because our people pioneered all the glory that Zambia [the Chipolopolo] has today.”
Kambwili recognises that the people of Zambia, especially the victims’ families need to know what happened. “As I go back I will table that with the Cabinet, because you know that the government is run by the Cabinet. As [a] Minister I will take the issue before the Cabinet and then Cabinet will approve, so we can release the report.”
The families want answers and to understand what happened to their fathers. “People went to Gabon to watch the Final, using our names instead of ourselves,” Mr Mwila said.
“We want to go to Gabon as the families to see the site where our fathers died so we can know and see what happened. Always when the memorial is about to approach there is some talk, but for 20 years we have been denied the truth about what happened, despite many promises.”
Kambwili stressed that Michael Sata’s government was pledged to openness and that there would be no problem releasing the report. “I can tell you something there has been agreements,” Kambwili said. But 14 months after Kambwili’s pledge, Zambia’s Cabinet still has not been asked to consider releasing the report and despite further requests for the release of the report by the victims’ families their pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
“All the five Presidents have pledged to release the agreements to the people, but we’ve done it as the new government,” Kambwili told me exclusively on the eve of the Chipolpolo’s African Cup of Nations triumph last year. “We’re very committed to being transparent with everything that we do, so even the Gabon Disaster Report; it will not be a problem. It will be published. The people of Zambia have a right to know what exactly transpired.”
Over a year later the report into the deaths of five crew members and 25 passengers, which included the cream of Zambian football has yet to be released. On April 28th 1993 the Zambian Air Force’s de Haviilland Canada DHC-5D Buffalo piloted by Fenton Mhone took off from Libreville International Airport. Problems had already been noticed at Brazzaville in the Republic of Congo and again in Libreville where it refuelled. Work was done on the plane in Libreville, but it soon ran into trouble after departing nearly two hours late, raising questions as to whether it was flight-worthy or not.
“Like I said I’m not privy to the Gabon Report,” Kambwili told me. “It hasn’t been released, so I don’t have the details, but from what we were told when we went to the beach where the accident happened, the people that were there, eyewitnesses, told us that as the plane was going it started to turn like it wanted to go back and re-land at Libreville International Airport.
“In the process the plane exploded and there were some flames in the air before it went down, so it is difficult for me to say that the plane was not flight-worthy, or it wasn’t in good condition until I read the report. That would be speculation.”
A year later the families of the victims of the Gabon Disaster are still waiting for answers. The report has not been released. But this is not the only report on the terrible crash never to see the light of day. The Gabonese Ministry of Defence also investigated the causes of the crash and produced a report. Its preliminary report suggested pilot error, but the full report and conclusions have never seen the light of day. Until told of its existence by me, Kambwili was unaware of it.
“No, no, no,” he said. “We haven’t seen it. As we are here, the Vice President is going to pay a courtesy call on the President and probably I can ask him to find out if they have got a report that was done from there.”
When assured that there was no doubt that the Gabonese investigated the crash themselves and produced a report Kambwili expressed interest in it. “We will try and follow it up and I will ask the Vice President when he pays a courtesy call on his brother [Gabon’s President] to find out if there is any report and if there is any report we will try and ask for it, so we can compare it to the report that is going to be produced,” Kambwili said.
With the twentieth anniversary of the crash approaching fast neither the Zambian or Gabonese reports on the disaster have been released. Among those who lost their lives just off the coast from Libreville on April 28th 1993 was goal-machine Godfrey Ucar Chitalu, whose feat of 116 goals scored in 1972 remains unsurpassed despite Lionel Messi’s achievement last year. Chitalu was the coach of that promising Zambian team, which included perhaps the best ever goal-keeper to represent the Chipolopolo, Efford Chabala.
EFFORD CHABALA (MUFULIRA WANDERERS)
RICHARD MWANZA (KABWE WARRIORS)
JOHN SOKO (NKANA)
ESTON MULENGA (NKANA)
WHITESON CHANGWE (KABWE WARRIORS)
WINTER MUMBA (POWER DYNAMOS)
ROBERT WATIYAKENI (DYNAMOS FC-RSA)
SAMUEL CHOMBA (DYNAMOS-RSA)
DERBY MAKINKA (El TIFFAQF-SAUDI ARABIA)
MOSES CHIKWALAKWALA (NKANA)
MWILA NUMBA (NKANA)
WISDOM CHANSA (DYNAMOS FC-SA)
GODFREY KANGWA (OLYMPIC CASABLANCA-MOROCCO)
KELVIN ‘MALAZA’ MUTALE (EL-TIFFAQ-SAUDI ARABIA)
TIMOTHY MWITWA (NKANA)
MOSES MASUWA (KABWE WARRIORS)
KENAN SIMAMBE (NKANA)
PATRICK ‘BOMBER’ BANDA (PROFUND WARRIORS)
GODFREY “UCAR” CHITALU (HEAD COACH)
ALEX CHOLA (ASSISTANT COACH)
WILSON MTONGA (TEAM DOCTOR)
MICHAEL MWAPE (FAZ CHAIRMAN)
NELSON ZIMBA (PUBLIC SERVANT)
JOSEPH SALIM BWALYA (JOURNALIST)
COLONEL FENTON MHONE (PILOT)
LT COLONEL VICTOR MUBANGA (PILOT)
LT COLONEL JAMES SACHIKA (PILOT)
WARRANT OFFICER EDWARD NAMBOTE (FITTER)
TOMSON SAKALA (STEWARD)